When Kenneth Marx rekindled his passion for making chess sets out of discarded sparkplugs after taking 40 years off, he was surprised to see no one else had thought of it.
“They are making them out of every other conceivable thing,” Marx said.
He quickly made sure it stayed that way and currently has a patent pending.
Decades ago, when Marx worked at a gas station while attending college, he first made his creations. Back then, attendants did tune ups in addition to fill ups and Marx began collecting the sparkplugs.
“I thought that there’s got to be something we can do with these instead of just throwing them away,” he said.
While the exact inspiration of chess pieces is not known, Marx said he manufactured a few sets for friends and they were hits.
Then, life got in the way, he said.
Sparked by seeing one of the sets he had made for a pal so long ago, Marx was inspired to renew the hobby, post-retirement.
For the last year, Marx has operated a home-based business creating chess sets. He has stations set up in his garage to form the pieces and a special spot in his basement where he paints them.
He has made 23 sets so far.
“I’m just getting started,” he said. “I’m basically doing a lot of baby steps.”
A set starts as discarded sparkplugs. Local repair shops collect them for Marx to retrieve. About once a month, he gathers his bounty and the process begins.
First, he sorts them by size and manufacturer. Then Marx soaks the plugs in a solution to clean them.
After choosing the ones in the best shape, he grinds the bottoms to affix a nut for stability. He also saws off the tops of the plugs and then dons the piece with a cap denoting the type of chess piece. For example, the king’s topper is an inverted tire stem. He also uses valve covers and other auto parts.
A very labor-intensive venture, each set takes about 20 hours of labor and much drying time between steps. Marx also makes custom wooden boxes for each set.
“Even at mass production, I am making 52 a year,” he said.
Each set is custom made. The purchaser can choose colors and even brands of sparkplugs. Some have made rival sides such as American manufacturers versus German, he said.
They sell for $275 a set. Marx has a website at www.chesscreations.com. He also sells sets out of his home at 303 N. Hoback St.
Marx said he has sold sets to employees at the repair shops that donate their discarded sparkplugs. He said his product appeals to both chess players and car fans. Avid crafters and those who simply enjoy unique creations also have purchased them.
“It’s a very small step in recycling,” he added.
His creations are on display at a few local repair shops where he collects the sparkplugs. A set also is part of a Made in Montana presentation at the state Department of Commerce.
Marx enjoys the creative expression of his small business.
“I don’t plan on making a fortune on this,” he said.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org